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Tiny fossils offer clues to new species

Richfield, Utah -- Tiny fossilized jaw bones found in Richfield, Utah, helped identify two new rodent species from as far back as 8 million years ago, a paleontologist says.

Utah Geological Survey paleontologist Don DeBlieux said the small fossils found by Jeff Roberts and his wife Denise were from a prehistorical era in Utah that previously offered few fossils to researchers, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday.

DeBlieux said in a report published last month the pristine condition of the fossils was particularly helpful in linking the bones to two previously unknown species of rodents.

"It's pretty significant," DeBlieux of Roberts' discovery several years ago.

"We don't know a lot about what was going on then so it helps us with that and fits into our understanding of the evolution of modern species."

For Roberts, having one of the discovered species named in honor of him and his wife was the real treasure.

"It's the coolest thing in the world," Roberts said of the name given to the species Basirepomys robertsi.

The Tribune said the other rodent species was named Metaliomys sevierensis in honor of the Sevier County formation where the fossils were located.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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